Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Invest In USM: A letter to the president from a retrenched faculty member

Posted on November 25, 2014 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Rachel Bouvier

Rachel Bouvier is Associate Professor of Economics and Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy.  Her last day at USM will be December 31, 2014.  She would have celebrated 10 years of service to USM this fall.

At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, I exchanged some heated words with President Flanagan.  I’d like to share the letter that I wrote to him after that meeting.

Dear President Flanagan:

I apologize for being discourteous at the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday. I was angry and upset, as I’m sure you understand.

Let me try and lay out my way of thinking, as I believe some of it may have gotten lost in the heat of the moment.

I do believe that there is a fiscal crisis of sorts.  Enrollment has gone down, there is increased competition from both the community college system and the non-profit colleges. Maine has undergone a decrease in college-age students, although, as I pointed out, not within Southern Maine and certainly not within the age demographic that we typically serve.

I also believe that USM has been the victim of continuous mismanagement. In the 9 years that I have been here, we have gone through at least four presidents, four provosts and four deans (I may have lost count). We have reorganized, and reorganized again. We have been asked to rebrand, to reimagine, to re-envision. We have sat on countless committees, working hard to try and stem the decline, while our ideas either get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle or get rejected out of hand.

This has led to a deep skepticism of administration, a sense of malaise and a sense of hopelessness among the faculty. We watch as our colleagues leave or retire, without being replaced, while at the same time we see administration, both here at USM and at the system office, balloon. That I am the junior member of the Economics department, after being hired more than nine years ago- I would have celebrated a decade of service to USM next fall- speaks volumes.

I believe that your actions have violated certain aspects of our contract, most notably that retrenchment should occur when the entire department is eliminated, not by eliminating individual faculty members within those departments. Furthermore, I am frankly very skeptical that the number of faculty slated to be retrenched in each individual department tracks so closely with the number of faculty at or close to retirement age.

I also believe that the actions of this administration violate the spirit of the faculty governance document, which, as I pointed out, has been approved all the way up to the Board of Trustees. Shared governance takes time and needs mutual trust, both of which are in short supply.  It is not easy. But the provisions of that document should be honored.

Although, as I’ve said, I do believe we are in a financial crisis, I also believe that the timelines we have been given are not as solid as they have been presented. I believe that we did not need to act so rashly, that had we been more deliberate and thoughtful in our actions, the end result might actually be a university that we could have been proud of. I do believe that a one-time infusion of funds from the system office, coupled with carefully targeted investments from the community, could have gone a long way to saving USM.  Now I’m not so sure of the outcome.

Finally, I will not allow anyone to disparage the faculty, or to imply that somehow we are responsible for the negative publicity or the decline in enrollment. Students are leaving because they can’t take the classes they need, because their faculty members are being let go or leaving voluntarily (recall that during the initial retrenchments in March, some very popular and well-respected faculty members chose not to return). They are leaving because the future of USM is shrouded in shadow, because they being asked to take risks with their education that they should not have to take, because they are unsure of the value of further investment.

Faculty have done everything they can, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to save our institution. The negative publicity is not of our doing. We love our school, and we love our students.  I’m sure that you feel you are doing your best to save the university) and I appreciate that. But a university is not like a business, where if you radically downsize, the shareholders respond with renewed confidence.  Here, if you radically downsize, the “customers” (my beloved students) will stop coming.

Sincerely,

Rachel Bouvier

Associate Professor of Economics

Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy

Major Advising Coordinator, Economics

An Open Letter to President Flanagan from a Retrenched Economics Professor

By Rachel Bouvier

Rachel Bouvier is Associate Professor of Economics and Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy.  Her last day at USM will be December 31, 2014.  She would have celebrated 10 years of service to USM this fall.

At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, I exchanged some heated words with President Flanagan.  I’d like to share the letter that I wrote to him after that meeting.

Dear President Flanagan:

I apologize for being discourteous at the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday. I was angry and upset, as I’m sure you understand.

Let me try and lay out my way of thinking, as I believe some of it may have gotten lost in the heat of the moment.

I do believe that there is a fiscal crisis of sorts.  Enrollment has gone down, there is increased competition from both the community college system and the non-profit colleges. Maine has undergone a decrease in college-age students, although, as I pointed out, not within Southern Maine and certainly not within the age demographic that we typically serve.

I also believe that USM has been the victim of continuous mismanagement. In the 9 years that I have been here, we have gone through at least four presidents, four provosts and four deans (I may have lost count). We have reorganized, and reorganized again. We have been asked to rebrand, to reimagine, to re-envision. We have sat on countless committees, working hard to try and stem the decline, while our ideas either get lost in the bureaucratic shuffle or get rejected out of hand.

This has led to a deep skepticism of administration, a sense of malaise and a sense of hopelessness among the faculty. We watch as our colleagues leave or retire, without being replaced, while at the same time we see administration, both here at USM and at the system office, balloon. That I am the junior member of the Economics department, after being hired more than nine years ago- I would have celebrated a decade of service to USM next fall- speaks volumes.

I believe that your actions have violated certain aspects of our contract, most notably that retrenchment should occur when the entire department is eliminated, not by eliminating individual faculty members within those departments. Furthermore, I am frankly very skeptical that the number of faculty slated to be retrenched in each individual department tracks so closely with the number of faculty at or close to retirement age.

I also believe that the actions of this administration violate the spirit of the faculty governance document, which, as I pointed out, has been approved all the way up to the Board of Trustees. Shared governance takes time and needs mutual trust, both of which are in short supply.  It is not easy. But the provisions of that document should be honored.

Although, as I’ve said, I do believe we are in a financial crisis, I also believe that the timelines we have been given are not as solid as they have been presented. I believe that we did not need to act so rashly, that had we been more deliberate and thoughtful in our actions, the end result might actually be a university that we could have been proud of. I do believe that a one-time infusion of funds from the system office, coupled with carefully targeted investments from the community, could have gone a long way to saving USM.  Now I’m not so sure of the outcome.

Finally, I will not allow anyone to disparage the faculty, or to imply that somehow we are responsible for the negative publicity or the decline in enrollment. Students are leaving because they can’t take the classes they need, because their faculty members are being let go or leaving voluntarily (recall that during the initial retrenchments in March, some very popular and well-respected faculty members chose not to return). They are leaving because the future of USM is shrouded in shadow, because they being asked to take risks with their education that they should not have to take, because they are unsure of the value of further investment.

Faculty have done everything they can, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to save our institution. The negative publicity is not of our doing. We love our school, and we love our students.  I’m sure that you feel you are doing your best to save the university) and I appreciate that. But a university is not like a business, where if you radically downsize, the shareholders respond with renewed confidence.  Here, if you radically downsize, the “customers” (my beloved students) will stop coming.

Sincerely,

Rachel Bouvier

Associate Professor of Economics

Adjunct Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy

Major Advising Coordinator, Economics

  • Flapjack

    Repeated for emphasis.